What Doesn't Kill Us

The new psychology of posttraumatic growth

What is Non-Directive Therapy?

Non-directive does not mean no direction: It means the client's direction

The concept of non-directivity can be confusing. In this short article I will describe what is meant by non-directivity and what it does not mean. 

The notion of non-directivity is important to many therapists who are influenced by the work of Carl Rogers. Rogers introduced the term non-directivity in the 1940’s to distinguish his approach to therapy from the existing forms of therapy at that time. 

At that time the main therapies were based on the idea that the therapist is like a doctor who is able to offer expert advice to the patient. In contrast, Rogers proposed that people need to rely less on the judgements of others and instead turn inwards to themselves as the best expert on what to do.

In short, he believed that people are their own best experts.

Many therapists still use the term non-directive but it can be a difficult concept to grasp, and more difficult to put into practice, as many of us so used to giving advice and trying to solve problems for others.

It also doesn’t mean that people can quickly come up with all the answers but in a therapeutic relationship where they feel valued, listened to and understood, they have the opportunity to turn things over in their mind, reflect on their problems, and seek new solutions. It might take some time but the ownership of the process is theirs.

In this sense the therapist is non-directive because they are tracking and following the client. Metaphorically the therapist is walking alongside the client, sometimes a few paces behind and sometimes a few paces ahead, sometimes stopping to discuss where to go next, but always going wherever the client goes. The therapist never chooses the direction.

This is what non-directive therapy means. It does not mean – and this is the important point – that therapy has no direction. Simply that the direction always comes from the client.

Stephen Joseph, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology, health, and social care at the University of Nottingham, UK, and author of What Doesn't Kill Us.

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